Facebook may help identify college drinking problems (study)

Have you been making Facebook status updates about how smashed you were last night? You may have a drinking problem, according to a new study.

College students who post references to getting drunk, blacking out, or other aspects of dangerous drinking on Facebook are more likely to have clinically-significant alcohol problems than students who do not post such references. The findings are based on a recent study which appears online in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, and is supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) as well as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Washington, Seattle, examined public Facebook profiles of more than 300 undergraduate students at those universities. The researchers divided the profiles into three categories: those with no alcohol references, those with alcohol references but no references to intoxication or problem drinking, and those with references to "being drunk," "getting wasted," or other terms they deemed suggestive of problem drinking behavior.

They then invited the profile owners to complete an online version of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), a screening tool that clinicians use to measure problem drinking. An AUDIT score of 8 or higher indicates an individual is at risk for problem drinking. The three groups in the study had average AUDIT scores of 4.7, 6.7, and 9.5, respectively.

Since many students do not seek routine or preventive health care at student health centers, innovative approaches are needed to identify college students who are at risk for problem drinking. Facebook could be a good starting point. The results indicate that social networks may be a useful tool for identifying and intervening with college students who could be developing, or already have, alcohol-use problems.

"We found that underage college students who referenced dangerous drinking habits, such as intoxication or blacking out, were more likely to have AUDIT scores that indicate problem drinking or alcohol-related injury," first author Megan A. Moreno, M.D., assistant professor of adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a statement. "Underage college students and adolescents frequently display references to alcohol on Facebook. Our study suggests that parents and college health care providers who note references to problem drinking on the Facebook profiles of adolescents should consider discussing drinking habits with their children and patients."

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